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Playing Pepper 2011: Chicago Cubs

Posted on March 2, 2011 at 5:00 PM
Filed Under: Chicago Cubs | Playing Pepper
Two years ago, I started a series I called Playing Pepper, where I asked questions of bloggers of each major league team about the season to come.  Not only was that informative and entertaining, it led to the spawning of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With spring training coming up, it's time to get back into shape by again playing a little pepper.

Chicago Cubs (75-87, 16 GB and fifth in the NL Central)

As Cardinal fans, we keep a wary eye on those on the north side of Chicago.  The Cubs/Cardinals rivalry is one of the best in baseball and it is agonizing for each fan base when the other team is doing well.

Will that be the case this year for the Redbird followers?  Do we need to be concerned about that 100+ year streak coming to an end?  A few Cubs bloggers took up the challenge to wade into Cardinal Nation and provide some answers.

David writes for Another Cubs Blog, part of the Bloguin network of blogs.  You can follow him and his cohorts on Twitter and like their page on Facebook if you want to keep an eye on the enemy.

Technically, John Mark writes for a United Cardinal Bloggers-member blog, as The Outfield Ivy is one of those rare breeds, a blog that covers both sides of the conflict.  You can find them on Twitter as well.

Bullpen Brian is written by Brian, which comes as no surprise.  He's an active member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Finally, Mark composes thoughts for Cubs Billy Goat Blog, referencing just one of many reasons the Cubs are the Cubs.  Both he and Brian are non-Tweeting, non-Facebooking bloggers.  Yes, those kind do still exist!

After the jump, this august body will let us know what to expect from a couple of Carloses.  (Carlosi?)

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C70: What was your opinion of the Chicago offseason?

ACB: Depends on how you evaluate the offseason. They didn't spend much and managed to improve a little so that's good. Unfortunately they traded away a lot of prospects and didn't get much better. Entering the offseason I wanted the Cubs to sign no one to a contract longer than 1 year and I wanted them to not trade a single prospect in their system. They got Wood for a year, Pena for a year and then screwed it all up by trading some of their best prospects for an overrated pitcher. 

OI: The word I would use to describe the Cubs offseason is adequate. For as bad as the Cubs were last season, they really didn't have many holes to fill. Their bullpen was a mess in the beginning of 2010 and ended up turning into a strength down the stretch. Adding Kerry Wood to help Marshall setup for Marmol makes it a pretty solid back end. A healthy John Grabow and Angel Guzman would also be a huge plus. 

As for the position players, 1B was about the only position the Cubs had to fill after trading Derrek Lee. Signing Carlos Pena to a one year deal was a huge win for Hendry. They get a guy that can't do any worse than Lee did last year and it still allows the Cubs to have some freedom in what they do after 2011 with some big names set to hit the market (Fielder, possibly Pujols). Outside of 1B, the Cubs lineup is pretty set with Soto, Castro, Ramirez, Soriano, Byrd, Fukudome/Byrd. 2B is another issue, but it seems like the Cubs are content with a platoon of Baker/DeWitt for now. 

The starting rotation has the ability to be pretty solid again. Last year, the Cubs starters led the league in quality starts. The strength of the rotation will hinge on which Zambrano shows up- the one that was demoted to the bullpen twice in 2010, or the one that didn't lose after the All-Star Break? Most likely it will be somewhere inbetween those extremes, and that should be enough to keep the Cubs competitive with the addition of Garza to a rotation that features Dempster, Garza, and Zambrano. The last two starters will feature some combination of Wells, Silva, Cashner, and (Quade says)... Jeff Russell? 

BB: Jim Hendry's had a strong offseason. He addressed all three of the Cubs' major needs starting with Carlos Pena, the left-handed hitting first baseman. He then signed Kerry Wood, the quality bullpen arm, and traded for Matt Garza, a solid No.3 starter. Even better, Hendry's done all this for around $16-million. 

CBGB: Overall, meh. Not overly impressed and a little upset at the gutting of the farm system for Matt Garza. I do not think the Cubs have improved enough to contend and gutting the farm system makes it more difficult for them to build from within.

C70: Will Carlos Pena be able to adequately compensate for the loss of Derrek Lee?

ACB: Derrek Lee in 2010? Yeah. Derrek Lee in 2009? No. Derrek Lee overall as a Cub? No. Pena is good and was signed to 1 year so I like the deal, but he's not likely to replace the kind of production Lee provided the Cubs from 2004 to 2009. 

OI: Derrek Lee had some huge seasons with the Cubs. Pena won't match what Lee had done in the past, but he certainly should be able to better the numbers that Lee put up in 2010. Lee was basically a .200 hitter who was hampered by injuries that drained him of his power. If we're talking about compensating for the Lee the Cubs saw last season, Pena should have no problem filling in. Pena will also be playing for a new contract again after the season, and that always seems to give players a production boost. 

BB: Signing Carlos Pena is a good move for the Cubs. No question Pena struggled offensively last season, but I think he'll bounce back. The guy's exactly what the Cubs were looking for at first base: good glove and a left-handed stick with power. 

Pena is also a good clubhouse guy, not to mention, a 10-year vet who's played on winning teams, and played in the postseason.That's the kind of experience the Cubs need in its young dugout. And that's about the best you can do short-term to replace a Derrek Lee. 

CBGB: Depends, are we talking about the Derrek Lee from 2004-2009 (excluding his injury year of 2006), when he averaged 31 HR's, 98 RBI's and a .305 average or the 2010 Lee, who finally started to show his age? Pena will never approach the numbers Lee put up between 2004-2009, but he is an adequate replacement for the 2010 Lee.

C70: Can Carlos Zambrano still regularly be a dominant force on the mound?

ACB: Zambrano is a really good pitcher. He's not great. He's never been great, but he's really good. He flirted with the idea for a few years earlier in his career, but since 2006 he's just been really good each and every season. The injuries have started to add up so the better question in my opinion is if he can be really good for 200 innings or 125 innings. A lot of mileage on that arm so I'm going to take the lower number. One of my favorite Cubs of all-time and he's been their best player over the last decade, but his best years are behind him. 

OI: Zambrano proved in the second half of the season last year that he definitely can. He went undefeated as a starter with a sub 2 ERA after the All-Star break and was arguably the most dominant picther in the second half of 2010. The talent always has been, and still is, there. If Zambrano comes into 2011 still thinking he has something to prove (and I bet he will), he could put together a very solid season. I wouldn't be surprised to see Zambrano win 15 games this year. That being said, I also wouldn't be surprised to see him win 5 games. Not being able to count on what Zambrano will show up is the only thing I can count on. 

BB: Carlos Zambrano remains a dominate force on the mound. The problem, however, is he's an equally destructive force off the mound. His failure to mature as both a person and a player has worn me thin. I never have and never will believe Zambrano's many claims of 'change.' The man's a ticking time bomb. 

CBGB: Dominant, NO. Above average, YES.

C70: Is there a Cubs prospect that will make a significant impact this season?

ACB: Is Andrew Cashner still a prospect? Is he a starting pitcher? The Cubs brought him up in the minors as a starter and after he was one of the most dominating pitchers in the minor leagues they decided he should be in the big league bullpen. Too bad considering what a lost season 2010 was. If he starts, Cashner could be a big impact. Of course he may just be a reliever or unable to go deep in games because of how he was used in 2010. The Cubs don't have any other position open for a prospect, but Brett Jackson is easily the best in the system and he's pretty close to MLB ready. I don't think he'll make an impact in 2011 and I don't think Cashner will either. 

OI: If you count Cashner as still a prospect, I think he has a real shot at getting a chance in the rotation at some point in 2011 and sticking. Silva won't make it a full season, and Wells is about 2-3 bad starts in a row from a bus ride to Des Moines. 

Josh Vitters is another guy to watch if Aramis Ramirez goes down for any length of time. Ramirez is in the final year with the Cubs, and the lack of depth of available options after this year is pretty slim. Vitters may be the guy to fill Ramirez's shoes if the Cubs don't bring Aramis back although I would bet the Cubs end up re-signing Aramis to a 2-3 year extension.  

BB: I don't believe there are any prospects that will make a significant impact like Starlin Castro did last season. The best potential candidates would have been Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee and Brandon Guyer. All three, however, were dealt to Tampa Bay for Matt Garza. 

CBGB: Most of the Cubs top prospects (e.g. Brett Jackson, Trey McNutt, Chris Carpenter and Jay Jackson) are probably at least a year away from making an impact. However, Darwin Barney could see some significant playing time in 2011 (I'm guessing 250-300 AB's). If the Cubs fall out of contention early, look for Brett Jackson to get the call.

C70: What is your prediction on Chicago's record and divisional standing?

ACB: 73 wins, 15 games behind the division winner, 4th place 

OI: I honestly have no idea what to expect out of this year's Cubs team. The Cubs were not as bad as their record indicated last year. I still think they have a chance to bounce back pretty well- but the NL Central is a lot better this year. I don't think they can finish ahead of the Cardinals, but I think they can compete with the Brewers and Reds for 2nd. 

BB: I hope I'm wrong about this, but I look for the Cubs to improve nine games to (84-78) and a third place finish in the NL Central. 

CBGB: The NL Central is going to be a lot more difficult this year, with the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers all making moves to improve their teams this offseason. The Pirates could be a surprise team, as they have a good young nucleus of hitters (they just need some pitching). However, I'm predicting the Cubs will finish 4th (ahead of the Pirates and Astros), with a record of 78-84.


3 Comments | Leave a comment

Some great answers. They don't all agree, nor should they. But I enjoyed their collective responses.

Cardinals lost their best cy young caliber 20 game pitcher & their gonna end in 1st place?

Cubs fan and chicago native here. I think it's important to remember that there are Cubs bloggers out there who would fall into the Marty Brennaman "worst fans in the league" category and those that are capable of coherent thought. (i should know better than most as I lived in wrigleyville for 3 years). Any that think this is an above .500 team is in the former group. The team is finally showing what years of front office mismanagement has created (especially now that it's a human with the pocket book and not a corporate entity) and what's worse is they mortgaged the future for an above average pitcher on a balow average team just this off season.

I'm with ACB on both the record and the division standing.

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